2016 NHL draft position preview: Centers


Last week, we looked at the top 30 prospects in this year's NHL draft.

Today, we begin our position previews with a look at the top draft-eligible centers for the 2016 NHL draft, which will take place on June 24-25 in Buffalo, New York.

Teams tend to build down the middle — center, defense and goaltenders — and this year's crop features a franchise-changing pivot and a few other potential top-line centers.

The Flyers have the 18th overall pick in the first round, and as evidenced by his first few drafts as general manager, Ron Hextall operates by drafting the best player available.

So while the orange and black have a much larger need on the wing, a center at 18 could be an option if their war room believes the best player there is a centerman.

With that said, let's take a look at the top 10 centermen in this year's crop.

1. Auston Matthews, 6-1/194, Zurich (NLA)
This is a no-brainer. Matthews heads the draft class as the best player available.

While the 6-foot-1 pivot doesn't come with the same amount of hype as Connor McDavid did last June, Matthews is a franchise building block and a high-octane offensive dynamo.

Matthews opted to play professional hockey in 2015-16 rather than junior or NCAA, as he missed the eligibility cutoff date of birth for the 2015 draft by two days.

The 18-year-old has it all — silky, smooth hands, elite speed, strong skater with a natural ability to create his own scoring chances and capitalize on them.

It's unfair to use the term "generational player" with Matthews, but he is as close to one as we will find in this draft class. A top flight center who'll score a lot in the NHL.

In 36 games with the Zurich Lions, Matthews registered 24 goals and 22 assists, while picking up just six penalty minutes and finished as a plus-16 player.

Playing for Team USA during the U-20s, the centerman potted seven markers and 11 points in seven games, and added nine points in 10 games for USA during the world championships.

Matthews will play on Team North America during the World Cup in September.

Draft projection: No. 1 overall to Toronto (Sorry, Auston).

2. Logan Brown, 6-6/218, Windsor (OHL)
Brown finished as No. 7 on Central Scouting's final North American rankings, jumping up seven spots from its mid-term rankings, and checks in as the No. 2 center in the draft.

Born in Raleigh, North Carolina, Brown, 18, is a dual citizen with Canada, but he opted to play for the U.S. over Canada during the 2016 U-18s — he played for Canada in the 2014 U-17s.

An enormous centerman, Brown uses his body well to protect the puck and uses his reach to his advantage. He plays at both ends of the ice, but can take over in the offensive zone. 

Brown nearly doubled his production this season from his first playing with Windsor. In 59 games, he netted 21 goals and 74 points as well as winning 53 percent of his faceoffs.

He finished with the fourth-most points (12) in the U-18s and also made an appearance in the CHL Top Prospects game. Not quite a top-5 talent, but an intriguing prospect.

Draft projection: Back end of the top-10. Could see Brown going to Arizona at No. 7.

3. Tyson Jost, 5-11/192, Penticton (BCHL)
Playing in the BCHL, Jost didn't get the love he would have if he played in the CHL, but the Penticton Vee prospect saw his stock rise when he captained Canada in the U-18s.

Jost outperformed expectations against better competition at the worlds, finishing with seven goals and 15 points. His performance at the worlds put him on the scene.

One scout told SportsNet, "The U-18s is a step up in class for the CHL kids, but it's a lot bigger step for somebody coming out of the BCHL. … And it's a tough position for these two Penticton kids to be in and I thought they did really well given the circumstances."

The level of competition in the BCHL shouldn't be of major concern for drafting teams, especially for Jost. He cemented himself worthy of this position at the worlds. In the fall, he'll play college hockey for North Dakota, the defending national champions.

The 18-year-old did light up the BCHL, however, scoring 42 goals and 104 points in 48 games. He's a creative, offensive-minded center who plays with a ton of energy.

Draft projection: Between 12-16. May not be the third center drafted, but trending upward.

4. Clayton Keller, 5-10/170, USNTDP (USHL)
Keller, 17, may be drafted ahead of Jost because he's been on the radar for longer, but the Swansea, Illinois, native finishes on our list as the fourth-best center available.

The pivot finished No. 9 on Central Scouting's final North American skater rankings and No. 13 among our top prospects. This year, he broke single-season records in the USHL.

His 70 assists were a single-season record and his 107 points moved him ahead of Patrick Kane and five points shy of Phil Kessel on the all-time single-season points list.

A shifty 5-foot-10 center, Keller is elusive with and without the puck and seems to never be without it. He owns high-end skill and playmaking abilities.

Like Jost, Keller will play college hockey in the fall. He'll head to Boston University to play for the Terriers, who produced last year's No. 2 overall pick, Jack Eichel.

Draft projection: Keller makes sense at No. 12 to Ottawa and No 13 to Carolina.

5. Michael McLeod, 6-2/187, Mississauga (OHL)
McLeod saw his stock fall in Central Scouting's final North American skater rankings, finishing as the 13th best N.A. skater. In the mid-term rankings, he was No. 6.

Still, McLeod is a promising prospect who rounds out the top-five eligible centers in this year's crop. He has a good combination of size and speed and is a noted hard worker.

The Mississauga Steelheads centerman put up 61 points in 57 games this season. What impresses about his game is his work ethic, as he gives the same effort every shift.

At the U-18s, however, McLeod failed to make any lasting impressions. He registered just four points in seven games for Canada. He may not produce a ton at the next level, but his game will translate as a third-line center at the very least.

Draft projection: Between 15 and 20. Could be a potential option for the Flyers at 18.

Rounding out the Top 10
6. Luke Kunin, 6-0/196, Wisconsin (NCAA)
7. German Rubtsov, 6-1/174, Russia U-18 (MHL)
8. Brett Howden, 6-2/193, Moose Jaw (WHL)
9. Tage Thompson, 6-5/185, Connecticut (NCAA)
10. Pascal Laberge, C, 6-1/175, Victoriaville (QMJHL)

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